Q. Do I have to wear a dark suit and tie to my uncle’s funeral?  My significant other says I should, but I want to wear a nice collared shirt and khakis. It seems to me everybody’s more casual these days. What’s your opinion?

I just went to a memorial service held in a church and wore a brown below-the-knee dress, topped with a bright orange cardigan. I would never have considered the cardigan even a few years ago. But our society’s dress codes have changed so dramatically (and completely disappeared in some instances). In my case, I was attending a service that celebrated a friend’s life. She had died much too young after waging a long battle with brain cancer. She was someone full of life and energy and plans. I felt she would approve of my orange top.

In general, however, I think dress code depends on a few issues:

(1) Are you a member of the immediate family? If so, you should set the tone for respect. Because it was your uncle who died, I feel you have leeway, unless your relationship with him was extremely close and/or you believe he would have expected formality.

(2) What does the immediate family want? Their wishes are paramount. You can ask them directly or check with another relative. You can also call the funeral home (or place of worship if the service is being held there) for dress code information.

(3) Is weather a problem? A suit can be too much to ask at a graveside service in summer in Florida or a snowy winter in North Dakota.

It’s true that we live in a society where some people wear hoodies and jeans at the office. Dressing down is not unusual at a Broadway show and even the Metropolitan Opera these days. However, let’s use common sense. If I was going to a funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (or the equivalent in another denomination), I’d dress up. I might not if the venue was in an area of the country where very casual dress is the norm. However, shorts, polo shirts, and/or sneakers are always inappropriate, unless the deceased specifically requested that people wear them. Occasionally, someone who plans his/her own funeral or memorial service does include instructions for attendees’ attire. Perhaps more of us should consider offering such guidance in these times of “anything goes.” It would head off disagreements and agonized decision making.


If you have a question for Florence, please email her at fisaacs@florenceisaacs.com.

Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a blog for bereaved spouses and partners.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons | Ryan Bowman

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